Episode 6: Jackie Black, Director of Membership for the Consumer Technology Association

Jackie BlackJackie Black, Director of Membership for the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), discusses the tech industry’s commitment to growing a diverse and inclusive 21st century workforce. She dives into how CTA’s dedicated Future of Work initiatives, including the Apprenticeship Coalition and the 21st Century Workforce Council, are getting people back to work and preparing the workforce for the jobs of the future.


Introduction: [00:00:00.96] Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrill, founder of Workology.com, as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools and case studies for the business leader, HR and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now, here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:00:26.22] This episode of the Workology podcast is part of a podcast series powered by the Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship, or PIA. PIA is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, or ODEP. In November of 2020 ODEP launched PIA to ensure all apprenticeship programs are inclusive and accessible to people with disabilities. PIA collaborates with employers and apprenticeship programs to help meet employer talent needs and enable people with disabilities to benefit from apprenticeships that increase their opportunities for lifelong access to high growth and high demand jobs. Today, I’m joined by Jackie Black. She’s the Director of Membership for the Consumer Technology Association. Jackie leads CTA’s Future of Work initiatives that demonstrate the tech industry’s commitment to closing the nation’s skills gap, growing the number of high skilled jobs, and investing in creating a fully equipped, diverse and inclusive 21st century workforce. Jackie, welcome to the Workology podcast.

Jackie Black: [00:01:25.68] Hi, Jessica, thanks so much for having me today.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:01:28.49] I’m so looking forward to our conversation. For listeners who might not be familiar with CTA, can you talk a little bit more about CTA and what it does?

Jackie Black: [00:01:39.96] Absolutely. So, CTA, the Consumer Technology Association, is North America’s largest technology trade association. Our members are the world’s leading innovators, so from startups to global brands, these members help support more than 18 million American jobs and CTA supports our members through market research, advocacy, technology standards, media support and networking and business development. We also own and produce CES, which is the most influential tech event in the world, and CES 2022 is returning live in Las Vegas, January 5th to 8th.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:02:18.12] I love CES. I’ve been. It is fun. It is wild, it is all things tech and, and such a variety. So, I had no idea until we connected that CTA is, like the CES conference is, under that umbrella with you guys.

Jackie Black: [00:02:34.44] Absolutely. We hope that you can join us in 2022 and we do some future of work-related programming there as well.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:02:40.80] Awesome. Well, I know that CTA is also committed to supporting vulnerable populations, including seniors and people with disabilities. Can you tell us a little bit more about the focus and work of the CTA foundation?

Jackie Black: [00:02:54.84] Absolutely. So, CTA created the foundation as a way to give back on behalf of the tech industry. The foundation focuses on two growing yet often overlooked communities, older adults and people with disabilities. And its mission is to link seniors and people with disabilities with technology to enhance their lives. So now, more than ever, this mission is hitting home, because we saw people around the world experiencing isolation and other challenges related to the Covid-19 pandemic. And the populations that the foundation serve are also the most likely to be impacted by the virus. Since the launch of the foundation, it has funded programs across the country, using innovative technologies to create independence and address social isolation. And people can learn more at CTAFoundation.tech.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:03:46.53] Awesome. Again, we ask these questions because I had no idea all the different things that CTA is involved in. So, I want to switch gears again and talk about your role leading CTA’s Future of Work initiative. What does that look like? What are you, what do you, what are you guys all about?

Jackie Black: [00:04:05.85] Great. So, as some background, CTA entered the workforce space in 2016 because we saw the impact of rapid technological change on the workforce. So, we committed to this mission of addressing the nation’s skills gap, growing the number of high-quality jobs and increasing employment in the tech sector. CTA’s mission is to advance the tech industry, but our members aren’t just traditional tech companies. So, from retailers to health care insurance and financial institutions, every company is now a tech company, and the tech industry cannot advance without a skilled workforce. So just to quickly paint a picture of this challenge, the U.S. tech sector could generate eight million new jobs by 2023. That’s around the corner. And this includes a lot of new-collar jobs. New collar is a term coined by IBM’s Ginni Rometty and this talks about positions that don’t require a four-year bachelor’s degree, and a lot of these workers are trained through vocational schools, boot camps, community colleges, high school, technical education and apprenticeships. The other part of the challenge is that U.S. companies are facing a major skills shortage or all STEM positions, and there’s really a need to expose students of all ages to STEM early and to prepare students for jobs in the future without expensive degrees, loans and debt. So, in my role leading CTA’s Future of Work activities, we help our member companies with workforce related programs to meet these challenges. These initiatives include our 21st Century Workforce Council, and this is a forum for business executives at any level to share best practices and address challenges to prepare the workforce for jobs of the future. And we also have the CTA Apprenticeship Coalition, which is teaching tech companies how to leverage apprenticeship programs to cultivate and retain talent. And I just want to stress that getting people back to work and equipped with in-demand skills is one of the most important undertakings for our nation right now.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:06:12.45] This is great information. I am learning so much and I know our listeners are saying, wow, I had no idea that CTA is doing all these different things and that, for a lot of people, that tech, everybody is, any company is a tech company. And you’re right, sometimes it’s hard for us as HR leaders to, to be in that mindset. I wanted to ask you more about the 21st Century Workforce Council. You said that this was created to support the goal of closing the skills gap in tech. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Jackie Black: [00:06:46.32] Absolutely. So, like I mentioned, this group can help provide guidance and insight to CTA to, to share collective best practices and communicate how we’re closing the skills gap. And we also advocate for policies that support companies to attract the best talent and help workers prepare for in-demand jobs. So, the executives on the council work together with strategic thought leadership and creativity to change and influence the direction of workforce development to better meet the needs of the industry. So, some of these areas might be talking about areas that tech jobs are in high demand, best practices for filling talent pipelines, efforts to upscale, best practices for hiring veterans. A couple examples include Amazon, who recently joined a CTA member conversation, to share more about their returnship program, which is focused on professionals getting back to work. And they shared some data that workers with gaps in their resume are forty-five percent less likely to receive an interview. So, they’re using returnships to specifically recruit from this population, which is disproportionately women, by creating a defined path to return to work and with additional support and mentorship. And one other example is Ford Next Generation Learning, another member company who’s actually serving as Vice Chair of the council now also. And Ford NGL is a great example of a company committed to preparing students who graduate from high school to be ready for jobs of the future. They work with local communities to create career academies that provide students with real world experience and connect them with adults currently working in their field of interest. And some other members, like Alarm.com, HARMAN, HP, Intel and NVIDIA, Wal-Mart, they’re all highly engaged in sharing their best practices within the council.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:08:33.12] I love the, a Council like this, how you are able to learn from each other and be able to dial in and connect with somebody, and maybe even a competitor oftentimes. But the willingness to share and talk about what’s working and what’s not working, because it’s like you said, it’s STEM. It’s the future of work. Like all of us are in this together. So how can we collectively help solve the problems when it comes to that 21st century workforce?

Jackie Black: [00:09:03.75] Exactly. This doesn’t work without a collective approach.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:09:06.51] The other question I had for you, kind of along those same lines is, but is more focused on the CTA apprenticeship coalition, which was announced at CES in 2019 in partnership with IBM, who we just had, Nickle Lamoreaux, the Chief Human Resources Officer of IBM, on our podcast. And I wanted to ask about the coalition. How does that work to support apprenticeships in tech?

Jackie Black: [00:09:29.58] That’s so great. IBM’s just been so committed in this space. So happy to hear that you had them on recently. CTA announced and launched the CTA apprenticeship coalition in 2019. It’s a collaborative effort with IBM, and our goal is to expand apprenticeship opportunities nationwide. So, members of the coalition collaborate and draw upon IBM’s apprenticeship program, which they launched in 2017 to help develop, launch and scale their own apprenticeship programs. So, the way this works is IBM open sourced their playbooks, their guide, their frameworks of occupations that are registered with the Department of Labor, with CTA member companies. So, it’s a great value to these members. Some of the tech occupations that IBM had worked on include software engineers, data analysts, project managers and a lot more. And since the inception of the coalition, it’s helped new members launch apprenticeship programs. So, BOSCH, Alarm.com, Phone2Action, T-Mobile and some others. As an example, BOSCH’s program is in software engineering, and they call it their IOT apprenticeship. And the goal of the 12-month program is to recruit talented non-engineers who have the transferable skills. So, then they can then train them in architecture, design and coding and ultimately employ the apprentices full time when their program is complete. And this is really a build strategy to talent, and it helps BOSCH meet their software engineering needs when it’s very challenging to find this talent. And what’s also great is their first cohort includes people from a wide variety of backgrounds. They have a former chef, a shop technician, a personal banking manager who are all shifting their careers to technology.

Jackie Black: [00:11:16.22] And at the start of the pandemic, we were concerned that our coalition members would scale back their programs. And when we asked them about this early on, since there was so much uncertainty, and we worried that creating an apprenticeship program may not have seemed like a workforce priority at the time. But what our members said, and this is so important, was that tech apprenticeships would be critical to economic recovery and that this was the time to expand programs to help the millions who are unemployed during the pandemic get back to work faster. And as we’ve seen, there’s still a great demand for this and for these to fill these tech roles. So, we are really excited to hear that they were moving forward with these programs. And we switched gears last year to publish a white paper to focus on helping companies make the case to advance an apprenticeship program, even during a time of crisis. And we interviewed our member companies to publish our second white paper on advancing tech apprenticeships. It’s a guide to how apprenticeship is a future of work solution to create certainty in uncertain times. And it covers how the pandemic accelerated the future of work to this highly digital world of remote work and increased automation. And we talk about how we work, where we work, and our workforce, and how each of these areas must be considered for establishing and running an apprenticeship program now.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:12:38.01] I absolutely love this. First of all, I love that your members, your Council members are so forward thinking, they see the bigger picture and they are continuing and growing their apprenticeship programs. Because you are absolutely right. As we’re coming out of this, we need jobs, and we need to fill roles. And keeping people in jobs or employing them in jobs is going to help our economy recover and for us to ultimately grow. I also wanted to mention that we will put the two links to the white paper resources that you mentioned just a minute ago in the show notes of the Workology podcast. So, you can go to the show notes, just go to Workology.com, you can just search Jackie Black or CTA, and then you’ll be able to get directly to that show and click on those resources and get all the case studies and information and learnings to set up your own apprenticeship program.

Break: Let’s take a reset. This is Jessica Miller-Merrell, and you are listening to the Workology podcast sponsored by Upskill HR and Ace The HR Exam. Today we are talking with Jackie Black. She’s the Director for the Future of Work for the Consumer Technology Association. This podcast is part of a podcast series powered by the Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship, or PIA. We are talking all things apprenticeships as part of this new series.

Break: [00:14:04.37] This episode of the Workology podcast is part of a new podcast series powered by the Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship, or PIA. PIA is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, ODEP. In November, ODEP launched PIA to ensure all apprenticeship programs are inclusive and accessible to people with disabilities. PIA collaborates with employers and apprenticeship programs to help meet employer talent needs and enable people with disabilities to benefit from apprenticeships that increase their opportunities for lifelong access to high growth, high demand jobs.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:14:42.43] We tend to think about programs in tech that are created by bigger companies. You’ve mentioned some big names, but you have mentioned the majority of CTA members are small businesses, which I think is fantastic. How can small companies support apprenticeship programs and learning initiatives within their own budget constraints?

Jackie Black: [00:15:01.60] That’s such a great question and so important to a lot of our membership. So, we also have a number of intermediaries that are members of the CTA apprenticeship coalition, American Apprenticeships.Work, Catalyte, Detroit Labs, Digital Creative Institute, Fastport, Franklin Apprenticeships and net.America. And intermediaries are organizations that have the capacity, the expertise and the network to help businesses create and launch and expand their programs. Labor associations, workforce development boards and community colleges can also serve as intermediaries, and intermediaries really help the employer maximize the impact of their apprenticeship. By providing that subject matter expertise, they can help source candidates. They can offer technical or curriculum building assistance. They may help facilitate the creation of a program by advising employers on how to administer their program, how to source their candidates. They might help in screening and the hiring process and many other ways. And no matter how large or small an employer, an intermediary can help offload some of those responsibilities of developing or running an apprenticeship program. I also want to note that smaller companies can have the capacity to create a program on their own, and one of my favorite member company examples is from Phone2Action.

Jackie Black: [00:16:23.51] They’re a software platform that helps advocacy groups mobilize constituents at scale. And they created an apprenticeship program in 2019. And in their case, it was after attending a CTA Apprenticeship Coalition workshop, that they realized they already had many of the elements in place for an apprenticeship program. In 2015, they had started what they called their Civic Tech Fellows program, which brought in high schoolers and college students for a summer of practical training. And after this workshop, they realized that their Fellows Initiative met many of the criteria of an apprenticeship program. They already had great organizational buy-in for this earn and learn model. They had a strong mentorship system, they had on the job training in place. With those building blocks established, they used, they worked with a state apprenticeship agency in Virginia and launched their first apprenticeship program in quality assurance and software development roles. And finally, for smaller companies looking to create an apprenticeship program, it is groups like the CTA Apprenticeship Coalition that can help companies learn from each other, share resources and navigate creating and maintaining a program.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:17:33.69] I love that. And so many of us are small to medium-sized businesses. We can’t all be Google or Facebook or whoever. And, and that’s OK. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t invest in something like an apprenticeship program to build that talent funnel and to employ future workers and a variety of different economic and social status, statuses, not just Ivy League colleges or your alumni university.

Jackie Black: [00:18:03.60] Exactly. And these are the ideas that we’re sharing among our members.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:18:07.26] Apprenticeships are inextricably linked to diversity, equity, inclusion or DEI. How does CTA work with companies to create programs and initiatives that support DEI for people with disabilities?

Jackie Black: [00:18:24.48] So, it’s true. These, these two are really powerfully linked because apprenticeship programs cast a wider net, focusing on underrepresented groups and technology. And it’s so important to remember that apprenticeship programs create opportunity and access to those who are overlooked. So, whether you’re looking at community colleges, high school graduates, veterans, career reinventors, people with disabilities, apprenticeship programs are more likely to bring a range of diverse backgrounds and experiences. And that only helps advance innovation. Apprenticeships are, they’re flexible. They can meet the workforce where they are in their career journey and create that pathway to get training for in-demand skills into the hands of people who need it most, all while earning a livable wage. And that’s crucial because I do want to point out that apprenticeship programs are paid from day one. But from CTA’s perspective, we launched our Diversity Initiatives program in 2018 with the vision of leading this collaborative, consistent approach to advocate for the benefits of creating a diverse and inclusive workforce and influencing that adoption in the tech sector. So, we collaborate with our member companies, with partner organizations and with policy makers to lead initiatives that can help ensure that DE and I is a priority reflected across all CTA channels.

Jackie Black: [00:19:45.84] We serve as an industry thought leader to communicate the benefits of diverse and inclusive workplaces and CTA is also developing research in this area around the state of diversity in the tech sector. We have some preliminary research from 2020 that shows that eighty-six percent of respondents are, have at least one or current plan DEI initiative at their organization and that forty-three percent are devoting resources to hiring from underrepresented groups, which is a great start. We also committed to creating a diverse entrepreneurial ecosystem. So, in January 2019, CTA announced a 10-million-dollar investment into venture firms and funds focused on underrepresented founders, women-led startups and diverse leadership teams. And finally, as we’ve talked about, sharing best practices for attracting, engaging and retaining diverse communities in the tech workforce is really a priority for us. So, we did launch a diversity and inclusion working group to allow our members to share effective strategies and approaches that tech companies are using to create a diverse workforce and inclusive workplaces.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:20:56.98] We know that employers can benefit so much from apprenticeship programs. And you’ve, you’ve given us some great resources and case studies today. In building these diverse talent pools from within our organizations, in tech, specifically, what do these programs mean for the participants of these apprenticeship programs? Please talk more about that.

Jackie Black: [00:21:17.56] You’re right, Jessica. We know that there are so many benefits for the apprenticeship program for the employers, but there are probably just as many, if not more, benefits for program participants. This might be increased hiring opportunities for nontraditional and underrepresented workers as we just talked about. There is Urban Institute data that shows that the rate of diverse hires for apprenticeship programs is above 40 percent. As an example of this wide range of backgrounds, when we announced the coalition on the CES stage, IBM brought out five of their apprentices onto the stage, and just to show the different areas they came from, one, Tony, who had been a barista in the coffee shop at IBM for seven years before teaching himself how to code and joining that program. They had an Air Force veteran. They had a woman, Kimberly, who had, who had earned a B.S. in general studies and worked in retail and self-published a book before switching careers. So just to give you a few examples of these, these additional hiring opportunities that apprenticeship programs provide. They also provide on-the-job mentorship. So, we all know the importance of mentorship in one’s career. But in the context of apprenticeships, mentors guide the apprentice through the transition into a company’s workforce. They provide that face-to-face training to help apprentices grow in their new roles and really just give the apprentice someone that they can ask questions to and be that go-to person.

Jackie Black: [00:22:42.13] They also provide a pathway into tech. And I touched on this without incurring student debt and with the training for these in-demand skills. As tuition fees continue to rise, fewer people can afford the cost of a four-year college education. U.S. student loan debt just in the past 10 years has increased more than one hundred percent. And there’s also countless who don’t finish college for a variety of reasons and still have a lot of debt and no degree. Still, with apprenticeships, the apprentices can leave their program equipped not only with industry specific credentials, and in most cases guaranteed positions, but without that financial burden. And it’s also really great for career changers who can benefit from an apprenticeship program by providing a way into the tech industry or another high demand role without going back to school or starting a new career from scratch. And finally, apprentices, there’s data that shows that they have increased earnings over the course of their career. So, the DOL finds that workers who complete an apprenticeship program earn an estimated three hundred thousand dollars more on average than a non-apprentice worker throughout their career. So, there’s a lot of benefits here for the Apprentice.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:23:56.24] That’s life changing. Three hundred thousand dollars for people. And I, I love that these are paid opportunities. It’s not an internship, it’s an apprenticeship. And they get paid while they learn and then they have a job, hopefully, at the end of that program. You know you’re not going to school for four years, five years, however long, and paying the school. You’re being paid to learn, which is amazing.

Jackie Black: [00:24:23.50] That’s the key.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:24:25.09] I wanted to talk a little bit about some trends. You’re really dialed in, with your work, because of the CTA and all the 21st century hiring and human capital conversations that are happening within the council, what are some trends that you’re seeing shaping the future of work right now?

Jackie Black: [00:24:48.24] So the trend that we’re seeing, it really comes down to, one, how employers are investing in training the workforce and two, new ways of doing business to support this post-pandemic way of working. So, CTA actually conducts an annual Future of Work study. And we survey tech industry leaders on workforce issues, and we want to understand the role of future jobs and the impact that they will have on how employers invest in their workforce. Our fourth annual survey was completed last fall and, topline result, we found that overall, despite the workforce destruction from the pandemic, tech companies, large and small, continue to need more employees with technical skills. I think I talked about that a lot today. Three in four respondents say that it is difficult to find candidates with the right skills and abilities, and only 15 percent say that this will become easier over the next five years. So, this means that time and resources must be put into finding skilled candidates, and also retaining current staff becomes incredibly valuable. We asked them open-ended questions, too, and in some of these responses, employers noted that it will be difficult to find and retain qualified workers with the right technical skills who are also motivated, engaged and loyal employees.

Jackie Black: [00:26:07.14] And we’re seeing this phenomenon every day in headlines now, with employee quits at their highest rate in the past two decades. Competition in the job market for skilled talent continues to grow. And as we’re emerging from the pandemic, our members told us, that to be competitive among employees, companies must invest in technology to enable remote work, to provide more flexible work options to retain their talent. There is a new workplace expectation among employees, expectations about their work life balance and challenges related to maintaining an engaged workplace culture remotely. So, I share that companies are facing difficulty finding these skilled candidates, but what are these skills in demand? And we asked our members, and the top technical skills most in demand are data analytics, software development and project management, all roles that can be filled by apprenticeship programs. And as important as technical skills are, they’re also only half of the equation. New in our 2020 survey, we also asked about soft skills in demand, and what we found was really significant, with soft skills ranking in higher demand than many of these tech skills. Most heard were effective communication, problem solving and critical thinking. And more than three quarters of employers said that professional development programs to hone soft skills will be important in retaining employees at their company in the next five years.

Jackie Black: [00:27:32.06] That was up eleven percentage points from the year prior and really shows that employers are seeing the increased importance of investing in these development programs to retain their employees. So, we know that investing in employees is important, but we also ask how companies are alleviating this challenge to find skilled candidates. And companies can look beyond colleges and other traditional hiring pathways to find skilled talent and provide these training opportunities. Our members told us that, to find and recruit skilled candidates, almost three quarters will hire employees who meet skill requirements regardless of education level. And fifty-eight percent said that their company never had, or no longer has, a policy requiring a college degree. And finally, about a quarter said that they will hire more from train-to-hire programs like apprenticeships, which is great. And we hope to see that continue to grow. So, when we think about the future of work, it’s now, it’s here, we are in the future of work and it’s critical to invest in training the current and future workforce with programs like apprenticeships and to do so in new ways that inclusively support all employees.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:28:44.29] That question and your response should be like it’s whole other podcast, because it’s like mic drop, right? I appreciate you, Jackie, for, for taking the time to talk with us today and share your experience. Before we go, I wanted to know where people can go to connect with you and learn more about CTA.

Jackie Black: [00:29:06.34] Absolutely so for CTA, we’re at CTA.Tech and CES.Tech. I am on LinkedIn at Jacqueline-Black and on Twitter @JackMBlack.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:29:17.76] Outstanding. Well, thank you again, Jackie, I really appreciate you taking your time.

Jackie Black: [00:29:22.65] Thank you, Jessica. I really enjoyed the conversation.

Closing: [00:29:25.77] Apprenticeships are such an amazing way to fill your talent funnel for tech jobs and beyond. They also offer a great way to create diversity in your talent pool with groups like people with disabilities. Having an organization and a community like the CTA is an awesome way to learn best practices and get access and connect with other business leaders like you. I love their commitment to this area, supporting big companies in the tech space as well as small, and most importantly, we’re all in tech. It doesn’t matter the type of organization or the customer we serve. We are leveraging technology to do business today, especially with our remote and hybrid workforces. I appreciate Jackie sharing her experience with us today on the podcast. Thank you to PIA as well as our Workology podcast sponsor Ace The HR Exam and Upskill HR.

Closing:  Personal and professional development is essential for successful HR leaders. Join Upskill HR to access live training, community and over a hundred on-demand courses for the dynamic leader. HR recent credits available. Visit UpskillHR.com for more.